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Is Windows RT not invited to the Windows 10 upgrade party?

Redmond says ARM-based OS to get just 'some of the functionality'

Photo of billboard marketing Microsoft Surface with Windows RT

With all the hoopla coming out of Microsoft's Windows 10 event in Redmond on Wednesday, there was surprisingly little talk of Windows RT, the feature-limited version of Windows 8.x for ARM-based tablets – and perhaps with good reason.

In a Q&A with press following Wednesday's keynote, Redmond OS bosses Terry Myerson and Joe Belfiore blew right through a question about big-boy Windows' ARM sibling, saying only that Microsoft is "working on an update for Windows RT as well."

In an emailed statement on Thursday Microsoft confirmed to The Reg that it is working on an update for Surface RT and Surface 2 "which will have some of the functionality of Windows 10."

That makes some sense, since Windows RT only ever had some of the functionality of Windows 8. What's interesting, however, is that the phrasing of the statement seems to indicate that the next version of the ARM OS won't actually be Windows 10.

That's odd, since as we learned on Wednesday, Microsoft has dropped the Windows Phone brand and is calling the next generation of its smartphone OS Windows 10. Windows RT, it seems, isn't going to be part of this new Windows 10 extended family.

That sounds like bad news for Windows RT fondlers. Even if Redmond isn't killing off its ARM OS now, the fact that it won't promise full feature parity with Windows 10 is hardly a resounding vote of confidence in the platform.

What's more, we haven't heard much about new ARM-powered Surface tablets, either. The Intel-powered Surface Pro line has been much more successful, particularly since the introduction of the larger Surface Pro 3. So while we expect a Surface Pro 4 will arrive sometime this year – possibly to coincide with the Windows 10 launch – the chances of seeing an RT-based Surface 3 seem slimmer than ever.

That's no surprise, though, since Windows RT has been wheezing away on life support for months. Customers never warmed to it, and the OEMs that initially signed up to build RT devices – including Asus, Dell, HTC, Lenovo, and Samsung – all pulled out when they saw the sales figures, eventually leaving Microsoft the sole company selling RT-based kit.

Microsoft took a bath on its RT fondleslabs. It was forced to write down nearly a billion dollars in unsold Surface inventory in 2013 when not even the previous year's holiday shopping frenzy inspired consumers to choose underpowered RT tablets over tablets running full-fat Windows 8 – or, more often than not, running Android or iOS.

Given that there's not much financial incentive to keep the RT experiment running at this point, Microsoft may finally be getting ready to cut its losses and walk away. ®

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